Pastoral

When a father p…

When a father provides crutches for his child, he does as good as say, I count that my child will be yet infirm; and when God shall provide an Advocate, he doth as good as to say, my people are subject to infirmities. Do not, therefore, think of thyself above what, by plain texts, and fair inferences drawn from Christ’s offices, thou are bound to think.  What doth it bespeak concerning thee that Christ is always a priest in heaven, and there ever lives to make intercession for thee, but this, that thou art at the best in thyself, yea, and in thy best exercising of all thy graces too, but a poor, pitiful, sorry, sinful man; a man that would, when yet most holy, be certainly cast away, did not thy high priest take away for thee the iniquity of thy holy things.

John Bunyan, The Work of Christ as an Advocate, 7.

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A Signpost To Heaven

(The pastoral letter to Hope Congregational Church, August 2013, from Pastor Riley Fraas)

Love, grace, and peace be yours abundantly from God the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  I rejoice greatly in the shared communion and life that we have together in Christ.  It is something that should never be taken for granted, something that we will enjoy together forever with Him in heaven, of which we now enjoy a blessed foretaste. 

For human beings walking through life, there is a choice between two roads.  One leads to life everlasting, and the other leads to eternal death.  In the word of God, in Matthew 7:13-14, we learn, “…wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  The narrow road which leads to life is characterized by faith in God’s promises, especially salvation through faith in Christ, and a way of life that indicates a changed condition of the heart which makes it to be oriented toward God.  The broad road leading to everlasting punishment under the wrath of God in hell is easy to travel; and large crowds are going that way all the time.  It is characterized by a coldness toward spiritual things, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, greed, pride, lust, and apathy.

When you see a sign on the road pointing to a desired destination, you are informed which way you ought to go to get there.  We have recently seen one of our own go home to be with Jesus in glory and everlasting happiness.  There are those like her, who, by their example of faith, walking with God, and service to the saints, leave by their lives a signpost in the fork of the road.  Those who are on the way of life can be distinguished from those who are on the broad road that leads to destruction by the conduct of their lives and the ripe fruits that show the Holy Spirit’s work in them.  They do good works of love and compassion for those they can, and abound with the peace, love, and joy that only comes from peace with God through Christ, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit.  It even shows in their personality.  By the legacy of their lives, they show the way to heaven which is their destination.  Like a sign in the road reading “To Heaven,” their path shows to those in their family and community the way of live which leads to everlasting happiness with the glorious Savior: a life by, from, and through grace, with steadfast faith in God’s promises in the Bible, which reflects the love of God in Christ to others out of thankfulness to Him for His precious gift of salvation.signpost

Let us, brothers and sisters, consider carefully what message we are leaving to our children, grand-children, great-grandchildren, fellow Christians, and neighbors, minding our pattern of life, deeds, and conversations.  If we walk consistently in love by the grace of God through faith, then when they day comes when we no longer walk this earth, we may leave by our life’s example a signpost pointing the way to heaven, so that if there were any doubt which way were the way to get there, it will have been made plain to those we know and love.

May the free and undeserved grace of God through Jesus Christ be our sustaining foundation for life, both now and forever.

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Zechariah Devotional, Part 3: An End Promised

This section of the prophetic book of Zechariah begins a series of word-pictures, painting pictures to show what God has planned for His people.

Zechariah 1:18-21

“18 Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns.

19 And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

20 And the Lord shewed me four carpenters.

21 Then said I, What come these to do? And he spake, saying, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head: but these are come to fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles, which lifted up their horn over the land of Judah to scatter it.”

Rams-Fighting

The horn in Scripture is a sign of strength, of power, especially of the military variety.  The people of Judah and Israel had been oppressed by wicked nations.  The Assyrians had invaded, packing off most of the northern tribe to faraway lands.  The Babylonian invasion had led to the exile of Jews in Babylon (in modern-day Iraq) for 70 years.  Now the Persian empire, which had since conquered Babylon, was in control.  They were still governing Judah, even as the Jews were restored to the promise land.  There would be more invasions to come as the Macedonians would later arrive, bringing with them the Greek language and culture.  These conquerors (all of them) were quite cruel and barbaric in the way that they treated the people whom they conquered.  The usual choice for cities under their siege was to be entirely annihilated or to surrender to a life of hard slavery to their conquerors.

In this word-picture, God was sending a message to the people of Judah that although they have been sorely afflicted, and that there is even more to come, yet those who come against her will be themselves taken out of the picture by God.  The One who sent the conquering armies would also send deliverers to take away their cruelty.  It is a message of hope, to endure affliction in hope by the promise of future deliverance.

There are times when God uses what seem to be the most cruel and painful events in the lives of His people for some good purpose.  It may be to teach them to depend on Him, to test their faith, or to bring them to repentance by making sin bitter to them when they get to taste the fruit of it.  But in any of these differing purposes, God is working all things for the good of those who love Him.  As Christians, there are times that we have to submit to God’s will by enduring terrible hardships, whether emotional, physical, financial, social, or political.  But in all of this we can be assured that God’s anger against His beloved children will find its limit.  His purpose is not to kill, but to discipline; not to injure, but to heal.  What He has given you to bear will come to an end in His timing.  Although for those who are on the road to destruction, this life is the best it gets, yet, for those who have been adopted in Christ by grace, this life is the worst it will ever be.  There will come a day when our great and loving heavenly Father will wipe away every tear from our eyes, when pain and sorrow will be no more, forever.  In the meantime He has given us afflictions to endure to get us ready.

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To enable faith…

To enable faith to surmount the great difficulty, Scripture furnishes two auxiliary proofs, the one the likeness of Christ’s resurrection, and the other the omnipotence of God. Therefore, whenever the subject of the resurrection is considered, let us think of the case of our Savior, who, having completed his mortal course in our nature which he had assumed, obtained immortality, and is now the pledge of our future resurrection. For in the miseries by which we are beset, we always bear “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh,” (2 Cor. 4:10). It is not lawful, it is not even possible, to separate him from us, without dividing him. Hence Paul’s argument, “If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen,” (1 Cor. 15:13); for he assumes it as an acknowledged principle, that when Christ was subjected to death, and by rising gained a victory over death, it was not on his own account, but in the Head was begun what must necessarily be fulfilled in all the members, according to the degree and order of each. For it would not be proper to be made equal to him in all respects. It is said in the psalm, “Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption,” (Ps. 16:10). Although a portion of this confidence appertain to us according to the measure bestowed on us, yet the full effect appeared only in Christ, who, free from all corruption, resumed a spotless body. Then, that there may be no doubt as to our fellowship with Christ in a blessed resurrection, and that we may be contented with this pledge, Paul distinctly affirms that he sits in the heavens, and will come as a judge on the last day for the express purpose of changing our vile body, “that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,” (Phil. 3:21). For he elsewhere says that God did not raise up his Son from death to give an isolated specimen of his mighty power, but that the Spirit exerts the same efficacy in regard to them that believe; and accordingly he says, that the Spirit when he dwells in us is life, because the end for which he was given is to quicken our mortal body (Rom. 8:10, 11; Col. 3:4). I briefly glance at subjects which might be treated more copiously, and deserve to be adorned more splendidly, and yet in the little I have said I trust pious readers will find sufficient materials for building up their faith. Christ rose again that he might have us as partakers with him of future life. He was raised up by the Father, inasmuch as he was the Head of the Church, from which he cannot possibly be dissevered. He was raised up by the power of the Spirit, who also in us performs the office of quickening. In fine, he was raised up to be the resurrection and the life. But as we have said, that in this mirror we behold a living image of the resurrection, so it furnishes a sure evidence to support our minds, provided we faint not, nor grow weary at the long delay, because it is not ours to measure the periods of time at our own pleasure; but to rest patiently till God in his own time renew his kingdom. To this Paul refers when he says, “But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming,” (1 Cor. 15:23).

On Christ as the proof of our future resurrection: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.25.3

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Calvin on Assurance of Election

When it comes to us, as I said, it is necessary for us to take the certainty of our election from the gospel; because if we try to penetrate the eternal decree of God, this will be an abyss for us to engulf us.  But after God has testified to us and made us to know that we are of His elect, we should climb higher, out of fear that the effect might bury the cause.  For there is nothing more unreasonable, when the Scripture tells us that He has illuminated us according as He has chosen us, that this clarity would blur our eyes, to the point that we would refuse to think we are elect.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.24.3 (translated from the French edition)

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Choices for Lutherans

elcaWith the election of its first openly homosexual bishop, Rev. R. Guy Erwin, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), this country’s largest Lutheran denomination, has made clear once and for all, if there had been any doubt, that it is going to follow the tide of contemporary culture rather than following anything like what has historically resembled Christianity.  In this act, it has proclaimed love toward that behavior which in the Holy Bible is termed an abomination to the Lord. 

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination:

Leviticus 20:13a

We are come a long way from Luther!  And, sadly, but no less truly, this stage has only arrived after a long march driven not by a reverence for the gospel of Christ as revealed in Scripture, but by liberal theology and progressive social activism.  It has not just begun.  The ELCA has been on a long ride beginning with questioning the authority of Holy Scripture, and a failure to maintain the biblical qualifications for ordained ministry; and the Lutherans are not alone.  They have been preceded in their embrace of homosexual conduct by the United Church of Christ, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Without a doubt there are Lutherans who have not consented to the ride.  I am acquainted with ELCA members who are vibrant and sincere brothers and sisters in Christ.  Those who fall into this category, that is, the remnant of true Christians left in the ELCA, must find themselves in a dilemma.  They have not brought this upon themselves, but the devilish inroads of evil have taken over the machinery of the church that they have known and loved, which they have called home, slowly but surely, until now, they are here.  What is a Christian who is a member of an ELCA congregation to do?  There are a few possible responses.

1.  Do nothing.

Be content to continue in your present congregation, with its present affiliation in the ELCA.  Many make the assumption that what happens in other synods or regions will not affect them.  They are satisfied with their congregation, in their neighborhood.  Those in rural areas tend to believe that they are isolated from what goes on “in the city.”  But is this really the case?  Are you willing to give your hard-earned cash to pay dues, to support the homosexual ideology through the ELCA seminaries, special scholarships for homosexuals studying for the ministry, pensions and salaries for church executives and other clergypersons engaging in an open (flagrant) homosexual lifestyle?  We would do well to consider the words of Revelation 18:4 “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”  Is it possible to be a contributor to such things and not partake of the guilt of the sins, and of God’s punishment of them who are committed to war against God and His word, and yet to remain personally unstained?

2.  But,  “I want to stay and fight.”

But what is the Church of Jesus Christ?   Is the Church itself a mission field or a mission station?  The question of when to separate has been a difficult one down through history, and sound Christian leaders have chosen to separate at different times, not always agreeing on when was the time to leave.  Yet, how can one remain in a fellowship or denomination which is essentially anti-Christian, and which forces the faithful to pay to promote what are abominations?  To take part with them is to be a partaker with them, is to partake in their guilt.

Ephesians 5:6, 7 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.  Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

And where will your congregation find pastors in the future?  Of what persuasion (or lifestyle) will they be?  If the history of other churches is any indication, it will soon be virtually impossible to find, or to get an ELCA synod to approve of, a pastor who believes that the Bible is the word of God and that sin is defined as God says it is.  Sadly, local congregations are not as isolated from the happenings in the broader denomination as they would like to believe.

And, let’s be honest, as far as working to reverse the course by being a voice for truth in the ELCA wilderness, at this point it would probably be easier and  more productive to repeatedly pound your head against a brick wall than to try and change the ELCA back to recognizing the authority of Scripture.

3. Working in your congregation to separate from the ELCA.

There are Lutheran denominations which still adhere to the inerrancy of Scripture and maintain a distinctly and historically Christian faith, such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LMCS).  There may be some ELCA congregations which have come to a point where they no longer hold to historic Lutheranism, and they may decide for various reasons that another strand of fellowship, another form of Christian unity with slightly different, yet essentially Christian standards of faith is to be preferred.

Martin+Luther+martinluther

I would encourage either avenue.  In fact, a Christian finding himself in the situation of being a part of an ELCA congregation probably ought to pursue the road of separation as a congregation first, if possible, to maintain the unity of the local body if the majority of the congregation are genuine Christians, and they can be persuaded to separate from the ELCA.  Although property and other legal or monetary issues may arise, these things are a small price to pay for the liberty to worship God in Spirit and in Truth, with a clear conscience.  As the Great Reformer Luther wrote in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…”  Alas, for many true believers within the fold of the ELCA, separation of the congregation from the ELCA will prove not to be an option simply because not enough voting members of the congregation will support it.  So that brings us to the final choice.


4. Leave and join another congregation.

The solution of last resort is not far for many in the present situation.  The final, and a painful option, for many, would be to leave the present ELCA congregation, and find another church, whether Lutheran or otherwise, where the gospel is clearly preached and the Bible is considered to be the definitive Word of God in written form.  If you are a Lutheran, ask yourself, is it the right time?  If not now, when?  What would have to happen for it to be the right time to separate from an ELCA congregation?  What sins would it involve?

What would I do, if I were a member of an ELCA congregation today?  If I were intent on remaining a Lutheran, holding to the distinctive Lutheran expression of Christianity including its form of worship and confessional statements, (which I do not), I would attempt to do number 3.  If that didn’t work, I would follow approach number 4 and join a different congregation.  If I were not dead set on remaining a Lutheran, I would simply follow number 4.  May God bless the Lutheran reader and may each be thoroughly convinced in his or her own mind that he or she is taking the right course of action.

crossroadsPlease, brothers and sisters, if you are a member of a congregation of the ELCA, immerse yourself in God’s word, reading it daily, and seek His help and direction there.  I hope that what I have written may be of help to some as they think through these crucial issues.

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The Christian Response to Calamity

Aerial_view_of_2013_Moore_tornado_damageDid you know that this same God who rules the weather also rules over human events?  There have been tragedies lately, notably the terrible tornadoes that ripped through the suburbs of Oklahoma City and the floods in the San Antonio area.  Our hearts ache for those who have been affected by tragedy.

As Christians, we are blessed to be able to make sense of these things.  We understand from God’s word that this world that we live in, and the people in it, are under God’s judgment for sin.  From time to time death and destruction occur as a small foretaste of the judgment to come upon all people for sin.  Those who are found in Christ on that day will be judged to be righteous for the sake of Christ’s righteousness counted in their place.  It is a mercy of God that he allows terrible tragedy to occur to both the redeemed and unbelievers in this life.  This does not mean that those who are affected when calamities happen are more sinful than others in this world.  It just means that as human beings are all by nature under God’s judgment for our rebellion against him.  These terrible events give those who remain and are still alive an opportunity to reflect and consider their ways, in order that they will turn from their sins and believe in Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent to be the Savior of the world.  God is sending them a message through the calamities in this world, giving them a chance.

As Christians the way to respond to sad events like these which affect our community or other communities is by worshiping God, exercising faith in Him.  God is sovereign over such human events.  They occur by His will.  As believers, we are assured that no matter how difficult or impossible it may seem at a given moment, no matter how hard it is to understand how a given tragedy fits into God’s plan, all of these things are a part of God’s plan for good.  Even the bad things that happen in this world are tending toward a good purpose in God’s plan.  It takes faith to believe this, because we can’t always see how something so terrible could possibly be used for good.  But we have a God who delights to bring good out of evil, as he has from the time that he used Joseph’s sale and slavery in Egypt as a way to save the whole family of Israel during a great famine, to His providing an atonement for sinners through the worst crime mankind has ever committed, the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory.

So, as Christians, our response to tragedy should be to worship God, in faith that His ways are above our ways, and that His way is ultimately and eternally the best way, in the context of the whole plan.  Let us be as Job, who, when he learned that he had lost everything he owned and all his children “arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped” the sovereign God whose will rules all things. Job 1:20

The understanding that we have as Christians of evil, and why bad things happen in this world, is a blessing that lets us make sense of it.  And when we have opportunity, let us carefully, compassionately, and appropriately share this faith of ours with others who are struggling in times of tragedy, that we have a good God who is working even these bad things for His own good purpose.  What a comfort!

And, knowing that God is sovereign encourages us to bring everything to Him in prayer.

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A Promise of Future Blessing: Zechariah devotional, part 2

Have you ever been tempted to think that God has given up on His Church?  The Jews in the time of Zechariah, were.  Zechariah proceeds to illustrate God’s loving attitude to His chosen people in a series of visions.  These visions are like word pictures, images seen by the prophet which have a meaning that the Lord intends to convey to those to whom Zechariah is prophesying, the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Remember that the Jewish people had returned from their captivity in Babylon, but that nations which did not know God had been oppressing them and impeding their progress in rebuilding the temple which had been destroyed.  Nothing had been built but the foundation.  The first vision of Zechariah starts off like this:

Zechariah 1:8 I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be. 10 And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.  11 And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.

AssyrianHorsemanThe nations which did not know God were resting at ease.  They had harmed the Jewish people, God’s chosen nation, and now were easing back in the saddle as if nothing could endanger them.  But what they don’t realize is that God was merely using them for His purpose.  Though they have been victorious over God’s people, they were just a tool in His almighty hand to correct, to chasten those whom He loves, in order to bring His people to mourn for their sins, and to come back to obedience to Him.

So often in our own generation, it may seem as though God’s power has left His holy Church.  So much of the church is either falling from the true faith, conforming to the world, being caught sleeping in time of battle, or is simply dying out.  The world with all its forces of unbelief, skepticism, and idolatry is oppressing the souls of those who trust in the Lord.  The very air we breathe is completely polluted by the emptiness of mankind’s disregard for the Creator.  That holy city, the Church of Jesus Christ where His word is proclaimed in truth, where baptism and the Lord’s Supper are faithfully practiced, and where Christians are walking together in love and discipline seems to be either vanishing before our eyes, or rendered completely irrelevant.  These are things that can be distressing to the one who forgets that great God who rules over human events, the One who chastens His people in love and smites to heal.  But even in all of these things, God is working His purpose.  And the good of His people whom He loves is what He is working toward, whether we can see it or not.  In the following verses, He goes on to say,

12 Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?  13 And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.  14 So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. 15 And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction. 16 Therefore thus saith the Lord; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. 17 Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.

The Church of Jesus Christ is that holy city, the Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 3:16, Revelation 21:2) and Israel of God (Galatians 6:16.)  It is composed of all those of every nation, Jew and Gentile, who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It is this Church of Christ which meets in particular locations in particular congregations at set times all over the world.  God is not done with her!  God promises to the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the mouth of Zechariah, that those nations which troubled His people will finally and fully be eliminated from the picture.  He used them for His purpose, but when He sees what they have done to her, He is jealous for her!  This is a prophecy about the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The Jewish nation as a political entity was never restored to full sovereignty or liberated from Gentile rule.  Rather, this prophecy about the restoration of the full freedom of Israel finds its fulfillment in the renewed and restored nation that Jesus established at Pentecost, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” (Acts 1:8)  We, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Israel of God, can look forward in faith to the day when we will be fully liberated from all our enemies.  For although the world may criticize and marginalize us as weak and insignificant; our great God is the One who will judge those who have come against His people.  Our place, brothers and sisters, is to keep the faith, to have hope, and continue to be obedient to Him, no matter what the world may throw at us.  We are to be about the business of building His temple.  And we have this comforting promise, that no opposition of the world, no sadness, death, or demonic forces will thwart God’s blessing upon us as His holy Church.

“I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. …My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.”

Let us, brothers and sisters, love, cherish, contribute our time and talents, to this Holy Bride, the Church of Jesus Christ, which gathers regularly as His people.  And as we continue to build this temple of the living God, let us have faith and hope that the one who has blessed her in the past, will continue to bless.

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Godly Priorities Following Affliction: Zechariah Devotional, part 1

12385605-jerusalem--february-20-jews-pray-at-the-wailing-wall-february-20-2012-in-jerusalem-il-the-wall-is-thZechariah was a prophet of the LORD from a prominent family of the line of priests, who had returned from exile in Babylon with Zerubbabel, the king of Judah.  What joy they must have experienced on their homecoming trip!  “Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them.” Psalm 126:2  In 538* BC the Persian emperor Cyrus had allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland, after he had conquered Babylon, and the people of God was in a state of limited freedom and inferiority, subject to the Persian Emperor.   But by now, around 520 BC the Jewish people felt deeply disappointed that God’s promises had not fully come to pass.  Before the exile, such prophets as Jeremiah and Isaiah had foretold of a glorious period of freedom and blessing after the exile.  God would send His people away in bondage to Babylon to chasten them for their unfaithfulness and their worship of other gods.  But when they returned seventy years later, the kingdom would be restored like never before, and a glorious period would usher in when Judah would be reunited with the northern tribes of Israel, and the nations would be subdued beneath the reign of one from the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham, flowing unto the Lord’s temple to worship there.  And, although, Judah had been restored to his ancestral homeland, and Zerubabbel, of the line of David, had been crowned king, much was yet lacking.  For Judea was a province within the Persian Empire, not a sovereign kingdom.  His king was not much more than an appointed, vassal, governor serving the interest of Persia.

The Jewish people had built the foundation of the temple, but they had slacked off on the building project, focusing attention instead on their own private and family lives, and neglecting the Lord’s house.  Where was the faithful obedience that had been promised?  Where was the promised freedom, and victory over the nations?  In response to the troublesome circumstances in which they found themselves, the Jewish people took the easy road by becoming self-centered instead of being God-centered.  How easy it is for us to begin to look inward after a long period of affliction, when the wrongs don’t seem to be made right, and God is not answering our prayers as quickly as we would prefer?  But God’s message to His people through Zechariah is to take heart, be patient, and finish rebuilding the temple, because the Lord has not forgotten His people.  He will save and bless them once more, and fulfill everything that He has promised.  Their part is to be faithful and obedient to the mission that He has set before them, to build His house.

Many of us have experienced affliction in our Christian lives by losing loved ones or suffering physical ailments.  Many have been hurt or wounded emotionally by hurtful people or circumstances.  Others have slid into dismay at the state of the godless contemporary culture that surrounds us.  So many have begun to look inward, to focus on themselves, and their private and family lives, wealth, and possessions because there doesn’t seem to be much else you can count on.  It’s easy for those who have suffered or been hurt or distressed to give up on prayer and on taking part in public worship among God’s people.  When things seem to be going so wrong, what good has it done?  Where is the blessing?  What happened to the promises?  But God’s message to us is the same as it was to His people long ago.  “Return to me, and I will return to you.”  Zechariah 1:3  Though you have suffered, yet be patient, and you will see showers of spiritual blessing as you’ve never known it before.  God is not through with His people yet, so let us, brothers and sisters, double down on efforts to support, love, cherish, and build His house, the fellowship of the redeemed that meets in the local church, made up of the people whom God has called out of the world into her blessed fellowship.  Let us be built together as stones in the temple walls.  This is that glorious city which God has promised to make happy forever.  Let Him be our God and we His people, and let this reality be expressed in effort and commitment toward our shared life together.

 

*The ESV Study Bible, Online Edition was used as a reference.

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7 Habits for Holiness

Reblogged from the Harvest Community Church Blog:

7 Habits for Holiness

In a recent Ligonier article, Pastor (Dr.) Pipa explained from the Bible why Christians don’t have to be enslaved to lust, and then quoted the following counsel from John Flavel as to what can be done about it. This is advice that would be helpful with any sin, and particularly for young men:

In the booklet Impure Lust, John Flavel gave seven directions for dealing with lust:

1. Beg of God a clean heart, renewed and sanctified by saving grace. We must always begin with the heart, for it is the fountain of all else (Matt. 15:19), and God promises to answer our prayers as we pray according to His will (John 14:13–14). We must seek the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

2. Walk in the fear of God all the day long, and in the sense of his omniscient eye that is ever upon you. How often our behavior is dictated by who is watching. We forget that He sees all.

3. Avoid lewd company, and the society of unclean persons; they are panderers for lust. Evil company corrupts good manners. Remember that this direction not only includes our personal contacts but those we encounter through movies, music, books, magazines, and computers.

4. Exercise yourself in your calling diligently; it will be an excellent means of preventing this sin. You have heard the adage, “Idleness is the Devil’s workshop.”

5. Put a restraint upon your appetite: feed not to excess. This direction does not mean that we may not enjoy God’s good gifts of food and drink, and the pleasure of feasting with friends, but it is a sober reminder that if we pander to our physical appetites in one area, we will be more prone to fall in other areas.

6. Choose a spouse and delight in the one you have chosen. One of the liberating insights of the Reformation is that within marriage, sex is for pleasure and is a God-given protection against unlawful lusts.

7. Take heed of running on in a course of sin, especially superstition and idolatry: in which cases, and as a punishment of which evils God often gives up men to these vile affections (Rom. 1:25–26). Sin inevitably breeds sin.

In these ways, the church may guard her people. Practice and teach these things.

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